💭How does he do it? The Habits behind Noam Chomsky

💭How does he do it? The Habits behind Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky had a profound effect on me during my first year at University. After a year of volunteering, I found the world outside my student bubble in a terrible state. Nothing I did seemed to make a difference.

Such futility led me to my first bout of depression. During the end of my first term studying Modern Languages, Chomsky's name as an eminent linguist popped into my reading list. From there it was only a short space of time before I was keenly hunting the library for more of his work. His words, particularly in “Understanding Power”, helped me to connect the dots of inequality, exploitation and violence as fundamental roots of the painful world around me.

I had to sink deeper into that darkness before I could see the light in his words. Small groups of people can really make a difference. Just as he had with a few others in ending the genocide in East Timor.

This stirred me into action over the summer break. I read incessantly and searched anarchist bookshops for new titles on how to make change happen. I attended my first activist meetings in Croydon, Manchester and Bristol, searching for my community. It was from that Manchester gathering of People and Planet that I met Frieda Luerken and Roger Hallam - two of my good friends who would later go on to become fellow cofounders of Extinction Rebellion. This has led me to wonder: how many other activist projects have started from the Chomsky ripple effect?

As Noam Chomsky turned 95 this week, I’d like to share a few, distilled insights into the man behind the wisdom in the hope that more of us can go on to inspire and lead such profound change in the world.


  • Focus on Broad Values - Rather than focus on “What do we want”, Noam believes that broad values for a better future are all that we need to offer, plus practice, practice, and more practice. Noam feels that to pre-think and set forth institutional vision in advance could curb our creativity in the moment. Whilst some like to paint their visions, Noam believes in keeping your mind and your plans open. This can be particularly helpful for bringing various groups together under a single banner of change, rather than quibbling about the end point.
  • Use Out-of-the-Box Analogies - Chomsky operates outside of the box by using thought experiments to break down our biases. He finds structurally similar positions and asks us why such core features are treated so differently. For example, he draws comparisons between U.S. media dynamics and old Soviet media dynamics, or U.S. foreign policy versus the behaviour of Mafia dons. In doing so, he reveals the exceptionalism at the heart of so many arguments and pushes for greater equality.
  • Logic - As a philosopher and scientist, Noam values the logic of arguments above all else. That goes for his own arguments too. He even has frequently worried that his words would be unduly attended by his listeners and not sufficiently criticised or examined.
  • Civility - Whilst Chomsky may remark that another’s argument is “trivial” or dumb, he is always pointing to the argument itself, not the person. This civility in debate helps open the door for further and deeper discussion.
  • Memory - Chomsky trains his memory to remember both the broad strokes and the fine details, making him agile to adjust to in-depth writing or public speaking. The major benefit of this is that he is instantly able to pick up old work as soon as he sits down rather than faffing with notes or rereading.
  • Diligence - Unsurprisingly, Noam spends extraordinary amounts of time working, either giving talks and interviews all day or even ensconcing himself in his office while on summer holiday to read and write. Such a work ethic has given him ample time to read recent books and studies and thereby criticise the media's propaganda around related events.
  • Don’t bemoan, seek better - Chomsky’s work clearly points out that whilst things all around are abysmal and that violence and injustice are even greater than they seem, the need to resist and seek better is evident and paramount. He often points to the rapid success of social movements in bringing about previously unthinkable dreams, like having a black president of the US and greater equality for women.

For a deeper dive into these insights, check out their source: Micheal Albert's latest article for ZNetwork, Chomsky at 95: No Strings On Him.


Just Stop Oil Students Bristol
Following the last wave of action in London that saw many students arrested and imprisoned, some, like my friend Ben, are now facing the legal consequences.

Ben joined a wave of student protests across the country to call Universities into civil disobedience, painting iconic university buildings with orange paint. What else could break the cognitive dissonance of these ivory towers? Ben was arrested by 6 police officers and dragged off campus into a Patchway cell. He's just been given an unconditional discharge - the lightest of penalties - but it comes with a £331 fine.

The time is nigh for academics to act on their words - to act as if the science is real and break the unjust laws of our society. To cut their ties with Barclays, the biggest funder of fossil fuels. To keep fossil fuel companies off campus. Teaching the young about their bright futures while digging their graves is heinous. Ben has given his all for the movement - now living with a restrictive police tag around his ankle. If you can, please donate to our student group to say thanks. We'll use the funds to cover the court fees and purchase clothes printing equipment for future, stylish fundraisers.

My artwork of Ben's Action

"We Tried" - Just Stop Oil's bid for Christmas #1.

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